The Witcraft of Seeing Things Differently: Hyperdetermined Humor, Unusual Viewpoints, and Narrative Rhetoric in Terry Pratchett's Discworld Novels

Lauri Määttä

Research output: Book/ReportDoctoral thesisMonograph


Sir Terry Pratchett’s bestselling Discworld series of novels has been commonly described as comic fantasy, and although it has been previously studied mainly as fantasy literature, another conspicuous feature in these novels, in addition to the fantasy milieu, is their rich and abundant humor. In this study, I have chosen the road less travelled by approaching the Discworld novels as humorous literature, and, consequently, my main goal here is to study the poetics of Terry Pratchett’s humor— his “witcraft”. To be more precise, in this dissertation I have set myself the task of mapping out the comic devices that are most characteristic for Terry Pratchett’s witcraft and investigating what makes the Discworld novels funny.

The richness of humor that is characteristic for the Discworld novels consists partly of the frequent occurrences of humorous descriptions and comic scenes, but also of the numerous comic devices that Pratchett deploys. In this dissertation, I argue that Terry Pratchett’s humor is hyperdetermined, which means that he tends to combine numerous comic devices in the same description or scene. Consequently, this study on the poetics of Terry Pratchett’s humor is at the same time a study on the construction of hyperdetermined humor. To better understand how hyperdetermined humor is constructed, I have devised a taxonomy that divides comic devices into four categories: situational, contextual, structural, and stylistic. Based on this taxonomy, I argue that the humor of a humorous description or a comic scene can be said to be truly hyperdetermined whenever it combines comic devices from more than one of these categories.

I consider mapping out the comic devices that are most characteristic for Terry Pratchett’s witcraft to be one of the major contributions of this dissertation to the academic study of humor in literature. Of situational comic devices, I discuss and analyze examples of dramatic irony and absurd logic that I have detected in the Discworld novels. Of contextual comic devices, I discuss Pratchett’s parody and satire; of structural comic devices, I study Pratchett’s use of paraprosdokian, bathos, figgins (or running gags), and comic footnotes. Of stylistic comic devices, I investigate Pratchett’s comic imagery (hyperboles, metaphors, similes, and personifications), his puns (paronomasia, antanaclasis, portmanteaux, and bilingual puns), as well as Pratchett’s comic euphemisms.

In this dissertation, I also demonstrate that representing cultural clichés (i.e., familiar cultural phenomena, customary ways of thinking, and conventional ways of representing) from humorously unusual viewpoints is characteristic for Terry Pratchett’s witcraft. In the Discworld novels, Pratchett transfers various cultural phenomena from the real world, our “Roundworld”, to a fantasy world called the Discworld, and as a result of this interworldly resonance, the cultural clichés of our Roundworld appear to the reader simultaneously as familiar and comically strange. These humorous viewpoints can be viewed as an additional constituent of hyperdetermined humor. While the fantasy setting of the Discworld novels allows Pratchett to set up comic resonance between the worlds, Pratchett’s humor also makes the Discworld a more imaginative and fantastic place than typical fantasy worlds. Many events and phenomena that are represented in the Discworld novels can only exist in a world where reality is distorted and enhanced by the special “magic” of comically absurd logic, playing with cultural clichés, and humorous exaggerations. In addition to the abundance of comic devices, hyperdetermined humor, and humorously unusual viewpoints, I also study in this dissertation what kinds of evaluative attitudes the narrator’s humorous viewpoints and the characters’ emotional reactions reveal. According to my interpretation, such evaluative attitudes are means of narrative rhetoric, where the author attempts to guide the reader’s attitudes of approval or disapproval. Pratchett’s humor is often critical—parodical or satirical—although occasionally the narrator’s humorous viewpoints represent the cultural phenomena of our Roundworld in a positive light, as something admirable. In this dissertation, I argue that narrative rhetoric is based on representing negative and positive attitudes, and that humor is one possible means of narrative rhetoric.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationTampere
ISBN (Electronic)978-952-03-2794-1
Publication statusPublished - 2023
Publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)

Publication series

NameTampere University Dissertations - Tampereen yliopiston väitöskirjat
ISSN (Print)2489-9860
ISSN (Electronic)2490-0028


Dive into the research topics of 'The Witcraft of Seeing Things Differently: Hyperdetermined Humor, Unusual Viewpoints, and Narrative Rhetoric in Terry Pratchett's Discworld Novels'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this